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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Switched At Birth: “Drive In The Knife”

Illustration for article titled Switched At Birth: “Drive In The Knife”
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(For the next several days, some of our writers will be swapping duties on some of our most popular shows. Some of them will like what they see, but for different reasons. Some of them will have vastly different opinions from the regular reviewers. And some of them won’t be all that different. It’s Second Opinions Week at TV Club.)

Like Carrie, I’ve been loving this season of Switched At Birth. Every time I get a twinge of doubt about the soap-opera shenanigans the characters pull (Angelo fathers another child! Kathryn takes over the school play!), something wonderful, unexpected, and wholly unique happens in the resulting plot to make me forget all the artifice.

So let’s talk about Regina’s relapse into alcoholism. As soon as her sobriety appeared in the “previously on…”, signalling that this bit of back-story was about to move front and center, my husband got worried. And when she avoided telling her rekindled flame Zane that she doesn’t drink, my husband got mad. He could tell where this was going: She would take a drink, rather than come out and say that she’s sober. And he found this ridiculous and unbelievable.

Now, whenever the Most Accommodating Bartender In The World punctuates every interaction with Regina, whether she’s celebrating a new job or mourning its loss, by pouring her a tall drink and pushing it into her hand, I can see his point. Regina’s fall off the wagon is the kind of soapy business that could have been avoided with one honest sentence out of her mouth. I don’t find it nearly as hateful as my husband does, simply because I think I understand why a woman like Regina would rather tell herself she can handle a drink after seven years sober, than tell the man who works in a bar every night and wants her to be his good-time girl that she’s limited to club soda.

But here we are at the end of tonight’s episode, two weeks after that first sip, with Regina spiraling out of control. She makes one successful attempt to refuse a free beverage because she’s going to the interior design studio for her first day of the new sales clerk job. But the smash cut from the bottom of her champagne glass to her bleary oversleeping face is depressingly inevitable.

Still, I’ll argue that “Drive In The Knife” redeems this storyline with a bracing, hard look at Regina’s capacity for self-deception. Look how easily those excuses about car trouble and dead phones spill out of her when she’s talking to her boss. And in case you thought that was just desperation, look how she lies to Daphne about leaving the job because it would force her into some kind of personal compromise. And then she looks Daphne in the eyes and promises with feeling that it’ll never happen again. The moment when Regina is confronted with how far she’s fallen is still to come, and it’s chilling to watch her still on the way down.

My favorite storyline of season two centers on Travis, the moody kid with a crush on Daphne and a chip on his shoulder. This week Daphne responds to his picnic overture with the dreaded “let’s just be friends” talk, and he responds by refusing to back up her identification of the food truck thief in a police lineup. She momentarily flirts with dismissing him as a thug, under the influence of Noah whose face Travis rearranged at Bay’s party last week. But then she tracks Travis down at the pizza delivery place where the thief works and stops him from taking the law into his own hands, declaring that “I’m not protecting him [the thief], I’m protecting you.” Later, John Kennish has a heart-to-heart with Travis at the carwash, reminding him that going to jail for assaulting the thief will be a lot worse for Travis than the beating will be for the thief. Travis does the right thing but fails to get the requisite satisfaction out of it. “How is this good news for me?” he signs to Daphne, reminding her that she’s still out of his reach and that his family situation is still a mess. Once again, the after-school special resolution is denied the audience, because these relatively privileged people don’t get to rescue the needy around them by an episode-length application of caring a lot.

Around the Kennish campaign, there is big drama—some of it fun, some of it a little unbelievable. In the latter corner stands Bay with her, um, rather eighties-style billboard for her dad’s campaign. Can anybody take this seriously as election messaging?  It’s sweet of John to stand up for her vision because he hates the play-it-safe strategy of Ivan, his campaign manager, who thinks the effort is doomed anyway. But c’mon. It’s basically Miami Vice art with Fresh Prince tagging.

On the fun side, though, there’s Toby and Emmett putting up yard signs with a sassy new campaign volunteer named Elisa. Just as he used to do while drumming with Wilke, Emmett gets huge comic mileage out of signing to Toby something that the third party can’t understand. “I’m going to take a long walk to my car to get more signs, and I’m going to take even longer coming back,” he signs spritely when it’s clear Elisa wants a chance to chat with Toby. Also hilarious: the other smash cut in the episode, from Elisa asking Toby if he wants to hang out at her place, to the two of them making out in the hot tub. We all guessed it when Elisa talked about how much she hates John Kennish’s opponent Patricia Sawyer, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome when that face from the yard signs across the street catches the two of them topless. “Mom, Toby Kennish; Toby, my mom,” Elisa explains. She’s certainly into having fun (“We had a good time, it was fun!” she repeats when trying to get Toby not to storm out), which doesn’t bode well for Toby’s rebound storyline, does it?

In the end, it’s the little things that make me love this show: Travis’s knockoff My Little Pony paperware (“Raven the Little Pegasus” from the 99-cent store), Emmett’s silent-movie cockiness (kissing Bay when she’s trying to explain that they ought to move on), Bay’s wry attempts at humor falling on deaf ears (“I’m of the royal family, yes,” she intones to a campaign finance person when asking for payment for her art, then when she gets a blank stare: “And I have this authorization, so…”).  Even if you stick ‘em in a loser Lost Weekend storyline straight out of a Syd Field seminar on dramatic conflict, their pleasures cannot be overshadowed.

Stray observations:

  • Donna Googles Art: Drive In The Knife” is a 1943 painting by the Chilean artist Matta, currently in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Nifty!
  • Zane and Regina have a rather artificially flirtatious conversation about the name of his trumpet, Sabrina, which Zane says was his daughter’s imaginary friend. (Is this the first time we’ve heard of this daughter?) Great ending to the bit of dialogue, though: “Sabrina could have been a stripper for all I know—I never saw her.”
  • Katryn is planning some kind of mixed Renaissance and Chuck Taylor All-Stars look for the Romeo and Juliet costumes. Sounds pretty horrid.
  • Bay uses a familiar example to explain to Noah how one image can tell a whole story: “If you see a girl with an ax, then you know there’s an angry girl out there somewhere.” Where is that angry girl, Bay?  How’d she end up working for her super-Republican dad?